By Mike Cooper’s “Cuss Jar” on the cooler at Cooper’s Landing there’s a sign that reads “No Beer — until we obtain a new liquor license.”
The renewal of Cooper’s liquor license is currently under investigation, said Keith Fuller, State Supervisor of Missouri Alcohol and Tobacco Control.
After 17 years of operating with a license, Cooper, owner of Cooper’s Landing, has lost the license. Cooper, who has patrons put a quarter into the Cuss Jar if he hears them cuss, received a letter dated June 23, 2004, stating that his “failure to possess good moral character” led to the rejection of his application. The denial came after Cooper applied for changes in his current license, including extending his ability to sell liquor seven days a week.
“The application showed some inconsistencies to a previous application, which is what led to the initial questions,” Fuller said.
In the letter, Fuller cited Cooper’s “failure to make full, true, and complete answers” as additional reasoning for the liquor license denial.
Other statements in Fuller’s letter relate to Cooper’s felony charges of a 1993 incident in which he pleaded guilty to possession of two grams of cocaine. Under Missouri liquor licensing requirements, “No person shall be granted a liquor license unless such person is of good moral character, a qualified legal voter and tax-paying citizen of Missouri,” according to the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Web site.
Cooper said the information Fuller used to determine his moral character was flawed. Although Cooper was charged with the felony in 1993, he said his probation was discharged and all of his rights were restored in 1996. He said that Fuller did not receive that information. Additionally, Fuller cited Cooper as having two felony charges instead of one.
A felony charge does not automatically disqualify a liquor license applicant, but the state supervisor of alcohol and tobacco control is allowed to use discretion as to what constitutes “good moral character.”
“They have a difficult and important job,” said Cooper in reference to the alcohol and tobacco control offices. “I am not personally mad at anyone. I’m just disappointed that they don’t have the resources to fully investigate me and find out who I really am before they decide that I don’t have good moral character.”
Cooper never had a problem with the yearly reapplication process until now, and has also never received a liquor citation.
He hopes the denial of his application will be reconsidered due to the discrepancy. Fuller said that Missouri statues do provide for an appeals process, but the procedure “depends on what aspect you’re appealing.”
Cooper has asked friends and Cooper’s Landing customers to send letters to Fuller’s office vouching for his moral character. Ten letters have been sent, and Cooper has gathered more than 120 signatures on a petition he started on June 30, the last night he was eligible to sell liquor.
If Cooper’s efforts fail, he said his business will suffer.
“We will have to cut back on hours and services,” Cooper said.
Summer part-time and full-time staff have already been laid off.
Cooper also questions his ability to book local music acts, a tradition at the landing. As of now, all acts that Cooper has booked for the month of July have agreed to continue to play free of charge.
Judy Burnett, a Missouri River Usage Survey Resource Technician, has been stationed at Cooper’s Landing since March.
“From my perch here on the bench, I observe a lot,” Burnett said. “I think this is a great place for anybody to come and enjoy the Missouri River. I’ve never seen anything but good done here.”
Katy Trail bikers, Missouri River boaters and local families have come to the landing since 1986.
“People will stop by and see what’s for dinner, drink a few beers, watch the sunset and tell fish stories,” Cooper said. “I’m not sure what will happen if we don’t get our license.”